PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Film

In 'Nymph()maniac - The Director's Cut', More Actually Is More

Even with all its XXX gimmickry, Nymph()maniac remains grounded in character. From someone like Von Trier, we'd expect nothing less, and we even get a lot more.


Nymph()maniac - The Director's Cut

Director: Lars Von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Connie Nielsen, Jamie Bell, Willem Dafoe, Mia Goth, Michaël Pas, Jens Albinus, Jean-Marc Barr, Udo Kier
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Year: 2014
US release date: 2014-10-17

Did we really need more? Did we really need to see a graphic self-abortion, male genitals in all manner of pre/post sexual release? Did we need more conversations between title "subject" Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg in the present, Stacy Martin in flashback) and her Good Samaritan "therapist" Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård)?

After viewing Lars Von Trier's director's cut of Nyph()maniac, packing at least 40 more minutes of provocative button pushing, the answer is an enthusiastic "Yes!" Those already inclined to dislike the film won't find anything new to reverse their opinion. Those who found the director's dissection of the fantasies and failings of a life devoted to sex interesting will be pleased with the additions, if not 100 percent convinced of their necessity.

One thing remains constant, however, and that is Von Trier's unique inquiry into the battle of the sexes, both in regards to gender and physical clash. Joe may be the mainstay, but the various men she beds and belittles are the real reflective gauge here. Take, for example, her obsession with her father. Previously, we learned little of their love, except that she thinks he hung the moon. He, while mostly silent, is still doting and attentive. When he grows sick and dies (and, as the story suggests, removes a necessary barrier against carnal experimentation for our heroine), we feel the loss, if only in limited ways.

In the new cut, there is more of the father figure (played with great empathy by an unexpected Christian Slater), and by adding these elements, we can see how the rest of Joe's life becomes predatory and predestined. While she constantly argues that she's not "making up" for something, Von Trier seems to negate his subject's own sense of self. He believes, rightly or wrongly, that the standard pervert profile (a slut with daddy issues) is the cause for Joe's downward spiral. A closer reading, however, reveals that he might just be full of shit.

We also get more explicit looks at the character's early travails. The train tryst before offers up some hardcore results now, while the work of Stacy Martin continues to amaze. While Charlotte Gainsbourg gets all the accolade, her younger costar is the one whose truly brave. Even with a "porn double" and a prosthetic vagina, she puts herself out there in every scene, coming across as the title concept with true hunter/gatherer urgency. Similarly, her effect on the men she meets suggests an internal heat that entraps both the person and their propensities. While age definitely dims some of this aggression, the movie makes it clear that it still remains there, like a slumbering giant.

And then there is the abortion. It's graphic. It's gross. It's gruesome. But it's also a necessary part of Joe's past, one we need to witness to understand the extremes she will go through to preserve her experiment. As the title suggests, this is a movie about the act.

Nymphomaniac glamorizes the syndrome as much as Melancholia did depression or Antichrist did grief. Yet in the original cut, it looked like Joe paid little personal price outside of the constant harangues and hate she received from the women whose men she stole (including that great scene with Uma Thurman).

As said previously, Von Trier makes it clear that Joe's journey is about power. It's not about pleasure or providing it. Instead, once she learns the control contained between her legs, this character decides to demystify and deconstruct it. Hollywood would have our heroine shown in the throes of passion, he face a constant reminder that the multiples of partners she is with are only providing one clear thing - pleasure. But Nymphomaniac is not about fun; it's about fear, about physical need or want trumping common sense. Von Trier is one of the few filmmakers to treat sex addiction as just that. This isn't some half-baked comedy where porn is just a playful substitute for some bro's inability to commit. This filmmaker wants to understand compulsion, with Seligman doing his best within the many frames of reference he has. Some of the answers are beyond disquieting.

By the time we get to portions of Part 2 we recognize, our viewpoint has changed. The fallout we experienced before has a new, more knowing perspective. The last two hours offer up the consequences this lengthy confessional has constantly hinted at. Even those B&D scenes with Jamie Bell are given a few more facets, thanks in part to the director's ability to add more to their meaning. It also impacts the overall effect. When bifurcated, we feel whiplashed, shocked by being forced to stop in mid import, so to speak. When viewed together, we get a more powerful experience, especially during a key moment when Joe goes back over all the symbols Seligman has used to offset her story.

It's all still a tale that rarely deviates from what we've experienced before. During the initial discussion about the Church, the whole notion of suffering vs. mercy is painted in particularly harsh terms. While Jerome (Shia LaBoeuf) struggles to get Joe to care, especially once their little baby is born, she heads off to find an even more histrionic source of release. Her meet up with some incredibly well endowed African immigrants is one of the funniest sequences Von Trier has put on film, a pair of erections bopping in and out of frame as our heroine decides to bail on her decision.

The material with Jamie Bell is more difficult to take. We get a sequence of accidental genital mutilation that's very tough to look at and his character is so cold and distant that we never understand his impetus -- outside of money -- for doing what he does.

Then Jerome reappears, and you can tell that Von Trier has planned this all along. As the man who took Joe's virginity (and by default, innocent), he will become the man who takes her soul as well. On the other hand, it's clear that Seligman is also partially responsible for her eventual downfall. By digging beneath the surface, by trying to make sense of what her actions indicate, he strips Joe of her last attempt at true redemption. One gets the impression that, because of her permissive father and failed early home life, this woman needs someone to "straighten her out" circa Jamie Bell's character (albeit, not so violently or graphically). Without any discipline -- not necessary for sexual release -- Joe appears destined to die as she lived - constantly seeking answers to something she can't quite understand or control. Her self-condemnation, meant to find meaning in her actions, only ends up spurring those around her to further cloud the issue.

Beyond his outbursts, his public proclivities and moments of misguided joking, Lars Von Trier remains a true auteur. He has a particular vision and has spend the last few decades deciphering and redefining it. He's never gone commercial or sold out. Instead, he rankles the mainstream by making the movies he wants, the way he wants. Even with all its XXX gimmickry, Nymph()maniac remains grounded in character. From someone like Von Trier, we'd expect nothing less, and in the end we get a lot more.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.